Carnegie Mellon University

There are many things we can do to improve the way we manage stress.  Keep in mind that the healthier we are, the better able we are to manage stress when it happens - and it will happen!  Eating well, being physically active, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco are all essential for healthy living. 

Check out these other components of an effective stress management approach:

Changing the way we think can actually help us manage stress.  Why?  Because any time something happens in our lives, we assess the situation before we respond.  This assessment, or how we perceive the situation, influences our feelings about and response to the situation.  Sometimes the messages we send ourselves are overly critical or not helpful.  Next time you have a stressful experience, try to notice unhelpful thoughts you might be having and focus instead on thoughts like these:

Is the situation really as bad as I think?
Is there another way to look at the situation?
What can I learn from this experience that I can use in the future?

Contrary to popular belief at CMU, going without sleep does not put you at the top of your game.  In fact, research suggests that students who get 6 or fewer hours of sleep have lower GPAs than those who get 8 or more.

Essential qualities for academic success - recall, concentration, and alertness - are impaired when you are sleep deprived.  According to University Health Services' surveys, 20 percent of CMU students report that sleep difficulties have negatively affected their academic performance. 

In addition to grades, not getting enough sleep has a negative impact on moods, health and safety.  Lack of sleep puts people at greater risk for serious problems like depression, anxiety, obesity, and illness due to a weakened immune system.

While individual sleep needs vary, most adults need 7 - 9 hours of sleep each night.  Following these tips can help improve sleep habits:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning.
  • Make sure your bedroom is a quiet, dark, and relaxing environment, not too hot or too cold.
  • Use your bed only for sleeping and not for other activities, such as reading or watching TV.
  • Physical activity may help promote sleep, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime. 

Practicing relaxation on a regular basis improves your body's ability to "turn off" your stress response.  In this way, relaxation helps you cope with stress by reducing the negative symptoms of stress in both mind and body. 

One of the fastest and simplest ways to relieve tension is deep breathing.  You can practice deep breathing at any time, any place.  Paying attention to your breathing can sometimes make you feel more anxious temporarily. This is normal -- if it happens, just keep coming back to your breathing.  Remember, practice is key!

Try this deep breathing exercise:

  • Find a comfortable space, free from distractions.
  • Sit in a relaxed position, with one hand on your belly, just under your rib cage.
  • Close your eyes or gently fix your gaze on something at eye level.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose. As you breathe in, let your belly expand to push the hand resting there out.  Breathe only as deep as is comfortable for you.
  • Exhale through your nose, allowing the hand resting on your belly to come back down.
  • Continue breathing this way for a few minutes.  As you get more comfortable, you will be able to practice for longer intervals. 
There are many other relaxation techniques, like meditation, massage, even drawing and coloring.  Try different techniques to find out which are helpful for you.

Learning to manage time effectively is a skill that will benefit you throughout life.  Having a plan and setting priorities can help reduce the tensions of having so much to do, as well as prevent unnecessary stressors like falling behind or forgetting responsibilities.  Time management is also important for ensuring we have time set aside for fun and relaxation.

Scheduling your time, setting priorities, preparing work spaces, overcoming procrastination and dividing tasks into smaller pieces are a few effective time management strategies.  Academic Development at Carnegie Mellon is a great resource for students interested in improving their time management skills.

Spirituality gives life context.  Developing a sense of spirituality helps us find purpose in life, see the larger picture, feel more connected to others, and learn to be more accepting of things we cannot control. 

So, what does it have to do with stress?  Research suggests that people who consider themselves to be spiritual are better able to cope with stress and heal from illness faster than people who do not.  Spiritual people focus less on unimportant things in life, understand that they cannot control everything that happens, and share the burden of difficult times with others. 

To develop your sense of spirituality, try these tips:

  • Try prayer or meditation to help focus your thoughts and find peace of mind.
  • Write in a journal to express your feelings and record your progress.
  • Talk to someone you trust who can help you discover what's important to you in life.
  • Read inspirational stories or essays to learn about different philosophies of life.
  • Talk to others whose spiritual lives you admire. 
Carnegie Mellon offers a number of Spirituality and Meaning Making Programs you can explore.

Family relationships, friendships and love relationships can all be major sources of stress.  Healthy relationships allow both people to:

  • Have fun and grow together
  • Feel like you can be yourself
  • Maintain honesty, trust and good communication
  • Build friendship and respect
  • Handle conflict appropriately
  • Have accountability, partnership and dedication 

Unhealthy love relationships, in particular, can be a significant source of stress, especially if the relationship is abusive.  What is relationship abuse?  It is a pattern of controlling behavior that someone uses against a girlfriend or boyfriend.  Abuse isn't always physical - it's often verbal and emotional or sexual.  Relationship abuse can happen to anyone, at any age, regardless of where they live, how much money they have, educational level, ethnicity, or sexual orientation or identity.   

Is your relationship abusive?  Does your boyfriend/girlfriend:

    Look at you or act in ways that scare you?
    Act jealous or possessive?
    Put you down or criticize you?
    Try to control where you go, what you wear or what you do?
    Text or IM you excessively?
    Blame you for the hurtful things they say and do?
    Threaten to kill or hurt you or themselves if you leave them?
    Try to stop you from seeing or talking to friends and family?
    Try to force you to have sex before you’re ready?
    Do they hit, slap, push or kick you?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship.  As a first step, it can help to talk to someone you trust or take a break from your partner.  Consider calling the National Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474 / 1-866-331-8453 TTY (24 hours a day, every day of the year) or visit loveisrespect.org.